The Old Drift

“The Old Drift” by Namwali Serpell (Zambia)


This book was initially chosen for our Summer Reading Group 2019, but because of its length, most readers didn’t manage to finish it on time. As a result, we organised a one-off book club meeting to discuss it.

To start with, readers were concerned by the scope of this book, fearing that they would be overwhelmed by all the characters in the three multigenerational families. However, as they got into the story, they found that they were able to keep the threads of the different families without needing to refer to the genealogy chart too often. Readers liked how so many sweeping themes were covered in a digestible fashion: from colonialism to independence, the AIDS epidemic and the ill-fated Zambian space program, and an imagined future of mass surveillance and drone warfare. They noticed that most of the narrators were women and felt there was a feminist approach to the story. In particular, they were fascinated by the strange traits of the three grandmothers, which they described as being like fairy-tale characters. Readers agreed that, at times, the story had elements of magical realism as well as dystopia in it. The book opens and ends with the voice of a mosquito, which is also present at the end of each section. Readers found these passages a slight distraction, but felt they gave an interesting commentary on the preceding sections. Overall, it averaged an 8.4 out of 10.


On the banks of the Zambezi River, a few miles from the majestic Victoria Falls, there was once a colonial settlement called The Old Drift. Here begins the epic story of a small African nation, told by a mysterious swarm-like chorus that calls itself man’s greatest nemesis. The tale? A playful panorama of history, fairytale, romance and science fiction. The moral? To err is human… Read more


Nicola’s Summer Reading list 2019

“Leila” by Prayaag Akbar (India)
“The Old Drift” by Namwali Serpell (Zambia)
“The Remainder” by Alia Trabucco Zeran (Chile)
“Sadness is a White Bird” by Moriel Rothman-Zecher (Israel) *

* Best Summer Read
In italics, Nicola’s Coup de Cœur

2 thoughts on “The Old Drift

  1. Thanks for point this book out. I’ve been looking for a Zambia book (try to read literature from every country to which I travel.)

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